Creative Child

Making Sense of Your Strong-Willed Child’s Behavior

by Rebecca Eanes

Strong-willed children have many wonderful qualities. They are fierce, determined, courageous, and spirited. At the same time, parenting a strong-willed child can lead to many power struggles. They can be emotionally intense and sensitive which can lead to more tantrums and meltdowns. All of this can be confusing or difficult to manage for their parents. 

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Using traditional discipline methods on strong-willed children will only fuel power struggles. These children are not easily manipulated or controlled. They challenge authority, so when you try to discipline with a “control over” approach, they will naturally challenge you, leading to fierce power struggles.

The first key is to understand your child’s behavior. Then we will look at three solutions for successfully parenting your strong-willed child.

Behavior is Communication. 

Behavior provides a window into the child’s emotional world, and it gives us clues as to what the child is experiencing. We need to pause and listen. This is especially important in strong-willed or intense children because they get overwhelmed even more easily. When a child’s behavior is off track, it could be because her reason centers are being overwhelmed by emotion or stress. Again, this is particularly true in sensitive or intense children. Often we feel that their behavior is deliberate, but more often it’s that they can’t stop themselves. He may know, for example, that he shouldn’t run ahead in the parking lot, but he cannot stop himself from acting on his impulse to run. 

This doesn’t mean we let it slide or give up, but rather that we step in and provide predictability, clear expectations, boundaries, and positive discipline to keep them safe while their brains are still developing.  


Solution One - Predictability and Choices

Strong-willed children like to be in control, so providing a consistent routine or daily rhythm will help them feel more in control of their daily life. Give your child a voice as you establish house rules, and he’ll be more likely to follow those rules. Allowing your child to make lots of reasonable choices will also feel empowering to them. When strong-willed children are forced to submit to another person, they will become stubborn and uncooperative, but when we provide choices, they become less oppositional. 

 

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